A chilling read

A chilling read
The Girl Who Didn’t Give Up
Shashi Warrier
Tranquebar Press
2015, pp 288, Rs 315

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” — Rocky Balboa.

Krishna Belur, the lead character in Shashi Warrier’s The Girl Who Didn’t Give Up, is no Rocky Balboa in the physical sense but mentally he makes himself as tough as the everyman-turned-iconic-boxer. He refuses to give up even when faced with challenging foes. An Economics professor from a university in the US, Belur is on a sabbatical in Goa for a few months to research Goa’s economy in the off-season. Being away from the US is also meant to be a panacea from the grief of his wife Allie’s death. Allie, a spirited young woman, fought her battle with ALS much the same way as she supported the needy.

Belur does not anticipate any nasty surprises when he rents an ancient house in Betelbatim. The house comes with usual problems that old buildings throw up such as recalcitrant flush tanks with punctual plumbers a rarity in the susegado lifestyle of Goa. Belur attempts to fix the plumbing himself. What he does not bargain for is a sheaf of papers wrapped in a plastic bag in the cistern, the cause of the obstruction. The handwritten papers are in Kannada, a language Belur is somewhat familiar with since he originally hails from Karnataka. Curiosity gets the better of him and what he reads leaves him aghast; the contents of the papers are explosive, to say the least.

The papers are a plea for help by a pre-teen girl Suchitra who, after the suicide of her farmer parents, is trapped in a paedophile racket in Goa. Along with her were five younger children virtually imprisoned by a couple a few years ago in the very same house Belur has rented for his stay! The children were molested by presumably well-known stalwarts of society. Her semi-graphic descriptions of the molestation the young children are subjected to angers Belur and he tries to enlist the help of the local police to find the children and bring the perpetrators to justice. This is easier said than done! Belur, having been away from India for a long time, is out of touch with prevalent reality and the way in which the wheels of justice turn.

Nothing moves in the case; instead, he is befriended by the local ruffians, cops and well-connected people and subtly (in a not-so-subtle fashion too sometime later) warned against pursuing the matter. However, he refuses to give up, encouraged by the memory of his feisty wife’s determination for justice which strengthens his resolve to find Suchitra and her molesters.

Warrier’s tale rings true to life; this makes it as horrifying as any news stories beamed on news channels. The characters are described well enough to imagine them as people one comes across: whether it’s the greasy local tout Ronnie or the portly police superintendent Vinay Kumar with a voracious appetite for food and drink, or even the bike-riding and marathon-running protagonist (shades of the author himself?). The story paces along smoothly, encouraging the reader to turn pages briskly (at times, turn them back as well to reacquaint themselves with the dozens of characters in the book, a minor irritant). The language employed by Warrier is neither pretentious nor is it the grammatically irritating patois so favoured by many Indian authors writing in English.

However, the later part of the book is somewhat simplistic as it careens towards its denouement. Unlike the first half that is rooted to the realities of life, the end seems facile and somewhat feeble and unconvincing. Something like the hero-villain fights at the end of Indian films. But that’s a trifling quibble; the book is mostly eminently readable and unputdownable, capturing the imagination of the reader.
All in all, I would definitely want to read more by Warrier.

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